Ana Lejido: The Learner
After the first day attending the University of South Florida, Spanish teacher Ana Lejido was on the verge of tears. She had already had enough. Her brain had exploded. She wanted to understand the content of the course, but it was nearly impossible.
Her English comprehension wasn’t sufficient, which caused her to struggle with the class. If her classmate needed four hours to do a research paper, she needed eight. At one point in time, she remembered telling her husband “I cannot do this.” But she persevered, practicing her grammar every single day.
Her English skills really started accelerating when she started working because it forced her to have real conversations. It’s like she tells her student, “you need more time and more effort.” Lejido’s experience learning English reflects these principles she now applies in her Spanish classroom: more time, more effort, and more communication. “We are humans, we need to communicate,” she said.
Lejido was raised in Spain. She took French in middle school which explains her initial lack of English. She was a young woman with many friends, and she valued these friendships greatly. In fact, she considered her husband her best friend. However, her husband had recently immigrated to America and Lejido was forced to make an important decision- does she stay in Spain or immigrate to America to be with her husband.
She decided on joining her husband, and eventually it was time to break the news with her family. Her father, at first, was sad. The US was very far away from Spain, and 20 years ago, there was no Zoom or Skype for communication. He was also a firm believer in the Spanish traditional household. Lejido’s mother had passed away, making Lejido the last woman in the family. And now, she was leaving too. However, he was a sensible man that respected her decision to find her own path. He needed a little more reassurance, so he asked relatives to report to him whether his daughter was happy with her decision. And because she was satisfied, so was he.
Before immigrating, Lejido had a few expectations of America. She wasn’t completely sold on the idea of the American dream, but she was influenced by American-based movies. They portrayed the American people as having less familial values than in Spain while also presenting America as a land of opportunity, and a great place for young people.
Lejido’s journey to America was quite easy. The immigration process was very simple because her husband was a citizen, as well as the fewer regulations of 20 years ago. She was finally an American. She first moved to Miami, Florida.
The first thing she noticed in America was the diversity. She hadn’t seen this many different ethnicities together except in movies. With Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, the melting pot of different races was a completely new concept to her. It presented a stark difference between the Spanish and American cultures which forced her to adapt her views. Methods that helped her assimilate with all the changes were asking questions, communicating, and learning- principles she’d later emphasize within her own classroom
Lejido initially wanted to teach history, but the elementary school near her home in Miami was in need of a Spanish teacher.
“Why not teach Spanish?” she asked herself. “It relates to history, and it’s my language.” The fact that she was able to change her job from history to foreign language exemplifies the flexibility of this country to her. “In Spain, to study in the university, you needed to do an extra year of school. In America, it’s ok to study one semester whenever, and you can work at the same time you study.”
Being able to work while attending the university was a game changer for Lejido because she was able to practice her English grammar while simultaneously engaging in conversations. She studied five years at the university in Spain. Later, at USF, she got her master’s degree in foreign language.
Lejido opted to have many older friends, rather than join a large community, so she can learn more about Old Tampa. Nowadays, many people from South America speak Spanish in Florida, so she doesn’t feel alone, but 70 years ago this was not the case. It was much harder to adapt for non-native English speakers and she wanted to learn about their experiences.
Lejido would characterize herself as a learner. Various opportunities in America have influenced her intellectual, professional, and personal views. She learns every day, such as learning how to work technology and canvas from students, which was important at the start of the pandemic.
While she learns all the time, it also feels like she teaches all the time.
“Hardest part about teaching is that you never finish. There is always more to teach, and it is exhausting,” she said.
Luckily, there are many more positives to being a teacher. One of her favorite parts about being a Spanish teacher is the growth of a student from freshman to senior year. Or when they have a Spanish conversation with her as alumni.
Her favorite part about Hillsborough High school is the ambiance. The students, her coworkers, and the faculty are so sweet, and she feels inspired walking down the hallway seeing portraits of the past students of Hillsborough.
“Everyone is history,” she said.